Not only do I love the way Jim Ruland thinks and views the world, I love the way he makes me think and view the world. Seriously, if you want to read a book of short stories that kicks ass and takes names, Jim Ruland's debut collection BIG LONESOME is it.
These stories are far from the usual fare--they're a breath of fresh air. Okay, wrong metaphor. They're a breath of smoke-filled, honky-tonking, tough-loving beer and animal sweat air. But trust me when I say you'll go there with him, and you'll like it.
I was captivated by Ruland's writing from the very first story, Night Soil Man, in which a group of World War II Belfast men--a zookeeper, a zoo curator, and the official shit-shoveler (through whose eyes the story unfolds)--are assigned the odious task of destroying all the zoo's animals ("specimens" as the higher-ups label them) before another German air attack sets them loose, wild, onto the city streets. The men don't relish this directive, and how they manage to carry out the orders will break your heart--in the most manly way, of course.
By the time I worked my way through The Previous Adventures of Popeye the Sailor (Bam!), Kessler Has No Lucky Pants (Pow!), A Terrible Thing in a Place Like This (Oof!), Pronto's Persistence (Unh!), Still Beautiful (Ouch!), and Dick Tracy on the Moon (Socko!), I was thoroughly hooked. I'm talking swallowed-the-lure, using-the-needlenose-pliers, guts-ripped-out-into-the-river hooked.
Then he gave me Red Cap. This one, wow. This one tore me up. Poor war-torn little skinny Ilse who gets mistaken for a boy in her favorite red cap...until she finally gets back to the one place she thought of as a refuge...finds it, too, invaded by the horrors of war...and then she isn't mistaken for a boy. And it's too bad. It might have saved her.
As for the final five stories? Well, I'll just whet your appetites with a few of my favorite lines:
From The Egg Man:
"The dancer winks at me and only an idiot would miss the message encrypted in the torpid descent of those lashes. She oozes closer, introducing a thousand possibilities in the curve of her lips, possibilities ten folded by the light grace of her hand on my shoulder."
From Big Lonesome:
"The bounty hunter stood at the trailhead and surveyed the expanse of desert before him. Nothing but crusty scrubland as far as he could see. To the west: a salty sink crawling with snakes and scorpions; the the east: a wasted plain stippled with sun-bleached bones. It was hotter than donkey piss and dry as beans. He had a fair piece to go and this was the way to get there."
"Boticelli Moon, the harlot, pushed her way to the front of the crowd in a ridiculous dress that exposed a fair portion of her oft-handled charms. "What," she asked, "do you require in return for your services?""
The voice in these 13 stories commands your attention, much as a good prizefighting tournament would. Clearly Ruland-the-writer has the skills of both an inside-fighter and an outside-fighter, with the occasional brash moves of a brawler thrown in for good measure.
With all this talent and diversity, here's hoping he stays in the ring all the way to the final bell.